'One of my proudest moments covering speedway'
- Credit: Derek Leader
In his latest On Air in Suffolk column, broadcaster Stephen Foster tells of one of his proudest moments covering the Mildenhall Fen Tigers.
An 80 mile round trip on a Sunday afternoon to watch the Mildenhall Fen Tigers has played a big part in my life since I rekindled my love of speedway some 15 years ago.
I’ve had a soft spot for West Row Stadium since the 1980s when I emcee’d the Mildenhall Rock and Blues Festival there. It was something of a labour of love as it involved working with headliners like Dr Feelgood, Rory Gallagher and Saxon.
Sadly the days of music events at West Row are long gone but thankfully motor sport remains. I always get a buzz pulling into the car-park by the entrance to the pit gates. I’m never sure what’s in store on or off the track but I am assured a warm welcome from the friendliest club in British speedway.
My BBC Radio Suffolk coverage of the Fen Tigers began in the days when the club was, to put it mildly, struggling. I recall the 2008 season when the team managed to lose every league meeting home and away. Slowly but surely things did get better - a lot better.
No Mildenhall fan will ever forget the 2012 season when their team did the Grand Slam. I was at a bitterly cold and wet King’s Lynn when the Fen Tigers secured the league title on the most dangerous looking track I have ever clapped my eyes on.
Since then trophies have been a little harder to come by but the entertainment value has remained high. There has never been a dull moment thanks to personalities off the track like Kevin Jolly and James Easter and riders on it such as Danny Ayres, Jon Armstrong and Drew Kemp entertaining us with their exploits on West Row’s tight little circuit.
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Danny’s tragic death in February last year stunned us all. He was always great value on his machine and his on my microphone. He gave me some of my favourite interviews both on the stadium public address system and for the radio and like everyone I was devastated when I heard he’d taken his own life.
I also built up a great rapport with Kevin Jolly. He could not have been more helpful in his roles as chairman and co-owner, making my efforts to give the club as much coverage as possible a lot easier than they might otherwise have been.
Kevin has never taken himself too seriously. I remember turning up for a meeting which was about to be called off following his enthusiastic efforts to dampen a dry track. He got a bit carried away and the track ended up resembling a ploughed field. Kevin was never allowed near the water bowser again. I have always admired Kevin’s honesty and I value his friendship.
I have James Easter to thank for one of my proudest speedway moments. In 2017 I was on the microphone as the team won the National Trophy. As the team gathered for the presentation James asked me if I’d do the honours and present skipper Jon Armstrong with the cup. James told me it was the club’s way of showing me their appreciation for all coverage I’d given them down the years.
We are so blessed to have two magnificent speedway clubs in Suffolk. I have been asked by my former employer BBC Radio Suffolk to cover both the Fen Tigers and the Ipswich Witches in the coming season so it promises to be busy summer for me. That is how I like.